Special Report


January 04, 2005 3 min read
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Standards and Accountability: Wisconsin has adopted clear and specific standards in elementary, middle, and high school for English and mathematics. But an absence of clear and specific standards for science and social studies/history hurts the state’s grade in this category.

The state, however, is one of only 12 to offer standards-based exams in every core subject in every grade span. State tests include multiple-choice questions in all grade spans and extended-response items on English tests. Elementary and middle school tests also include short-answer questions.

The state loses ground on its accountability system. Wisconsin publishes school report cards that include test results, and it uses test scores as part of its school rating system. It also provides help to schools that are rated low-performing.

But it does not impose sanctions for all consistently low-performing or failing schools, including non-Title I schools. The state does provide financial rewards to high-performing or improving schools.

Efforts to Improve Teacher Quality: Wisconsin has a strong set of teacher education requirements for prospective educators. Future high school teachers must major in the subjects they plan to teach. Middle school teachers must have at least minors in their subject areas. The state also requires that all teacher-candidates spend a full semester student teaching.

Wisconsin’s grade has jumped since last year, mainly because it has strengthened its testing system for new teachers. In addition to passing basic-skills tests, both high school and middle school teachers must now pass content-area tests to receive their initial licenses. Also, classroom teachers submit portfolios for review by state-trained assessors to receive more advanced teaching licenses.

Wisconsin’s report cards include a substantial amount of data on teacher qualifications. In addition, the state provides money for professional development. It does not, though, have professional development standards or require schools and districts to set aside time for professional development, shortcomings that hurt its grade. The state identifies low-performing teacher education programs through its program-approval and -review process, but does not yet report the passing rates of graduates on licensure tests by institution.

School Climate: Wisconsin receives one of the top grades for school climate. The grade is supported by above-average performance on measures of student engagement, school safety, and parent involvement from the background survey of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The state also stands out for its well-known efforts to expand school choice. The state has a statewide open-enrollment policy, and its charter school law is rated moderately strong by the Center for Education Reform.

Quality Counts does not grade states on the provision of private school choice, however, so Wisconsin’s school voucher program in Milwaukee does not affect its grade.

Like a majority of states, Wisconsin publishes information about school safety on its school report cards. But it does not provide information about parent involvement or class size.

Equity: Wisconsin does fairly well on equity, scoring in the top third of states. The state has a low, but positive, wealth-neutrality score, which indicates that property-wealthy districts in the state still receive more state and local dollars for education than property-poor districts do.

Wisconsin’s wealth-neutrality score ranks it 16th among the 50 states. The state ranks 10th of the 50 states on the coefficient of variation, at 9.2 percent, which indicates modest variations in per-pupil spending across its districts. Its worst indicator is the McLoone Index, on which Wisconsin ranks 23rd. That indicator compares the total amount spent on students in districts below the median with the amount that would be needed to ensure all districts spent at least at the median.

Spending: Wisconsin spends almost 117 percent of the national average on education: Its expenditure for the 2001-02 school year was $9,027 per pupil, compared with a national average of $7,734. It ranks eighth among the 50 states and the District of Columbia on that indicator. Almost 100 percent of students in the state are in districts spending at or above the national average.

In addition, Wisconsin scores 100 on the spending index, which indicates that the remaining students attend school in districts that don’t fall very far below the national average. The state has the fifth-highest percentage of total taxable resources—4.5 percent—spent on education.


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